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What OTC Access to Oral Contraception Means to Women

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October 14, 2020

By: Kaitlyn Germann

To me, and to many young people, access to oral contraception is incredibly important. Although it can be accessed through a doctor’s appointment, in person,  online in some states, or even with a prescription from a pharmacist in some, it still remains something that isn’t accessible, as daily forms of oral contraception are not currently available over the counter without a prescription. 

The only contraceptives accessible without a prescription, are labeled as “emergency contraceptives,” not made for regular use, and only, as the name implies, for emergencies when other contraceptive methods failed or were not used. Even with this, not all emergency contraceptives are available over the counter, such as Ella (ulipristal acetate), an emergency contraceptive which is both more effective overall, and specifically more effective for people who weigh over 155 pounds. Ella is available only with a doctor’s or pharmacist’s prescription. 

With this in mind, one can see the difficulty associated with a lack of OTC access to oral contraception. This difficulty may lead some people, such as 19-year-old Paulina, to look toward other more dangerous, at-home methods of aborticants, if the emergency contraceptive had not been available OTC when she needed it. Paulina remarked that she wouldn’t “think to ask for [emergency contraception]” at the doctor’s office due to her not having health insurance for a large part of her life. Despite this, she also remarked that she could see OTC oral contraception as being an issue, due to individuals not knowing as much about different medications as doctors do.

With this point in mind, one could definitely think that oral contraception may not be the best medication to sell OTC. It may take researching a bit to see what pill could be right for you, given that different side effects may happen with different pills. But on the contrary, it is actually a very safe medication to be available over the counter. Oral contraceptives are not something that one can overdose on, nor are they medications that one can develop a dependence on. Other OTC medication, like Tylenol (acetaminophen), could be much more dangerous, due to the liver damage it could cause due to excessive or prolonged use. 

Furthermore, after speaking to 19-year-old Skyla, one can see that OTC access could be incredibly beneficial. She remarks that it would have been “easy to just change it if [she] needed to,” which she did need to, as she commented it did affect her mood a lot, had it been available OTC. She also talks about the difficulty she had in receiving a prescription for an oral contraceptive, even with insurance, as her doctor wasn’t available for appointments for about three months out. After deciding to call Planned Parenthood to get a prescription, she was able to set an appointment set for two days later and was ultimately able to receive her oral contraception. 

While some people have mood issues with oral contraceptives, OTC availability would be beneficial for them. Ava, also 19, spoke about her experience explaining that she. originally began taking birth control pills for hormonal reasons, but after she ended up having mood issues, she completely stopped them for about 3 years- instead of switching pills. She remarks that an OTC access would have allowed her a greater choice in what pill she could take, and the ability to find one which suited her, more easily. 

Ultimately, OTC access to birth control pills is something that would greatly benefit young people, and allow for all people to decide what to do with their bodies and their reproductive health. As Nyree comments, she would have “been on it for years” had it been available to her OTC. She also feels that “if it’s over the counter, and it’s talked about more, and it’s more known, and talked about more toward girls and like women just in general, it could help a lot with like normalizing women who are open to sex.” This would apply to the importance of having birth control accessible both for pregnancy prevention and health reasons, such as lessening cramps and regulating periods. 

At the end of the day, OTC access would allow so many people to access the contraception they need and be a huge part of minimizing the stigma around sex and around the discussion of safe sex. This would be a great step towards the fight for bodily autonomy, not only in regards to sex or oral contraception but in regards to all aspects of life in their entirety. 

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